Thomas Edmunds Price is an orthopedic surgeon and Republican congressman representing Georgia's 6th district. He took office in 2005 and has served as the chair of the House Budget Committee since 2015. On November 29, Donald Trump told media outlets that Price would be his pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Price was confirmed by the Senate vote of 52 to 47 on February 10.
Price, 62, has been a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, since before its passage in 2010. Trump is widely perceived as having selected him in order to dismantle the law, which the president had promised to repeal "on day one" of his administration.
The day of his inauguration, Trump issued an executive order requiring all agency heads to avoid implementing "any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications." Three days later, press secretary Sean Spicer declined to say whether the administration would enforce the individual mandate, which penalizes those who do not purchase health insurance.
Price put forward his own bill to replace Obamacare, the "Empowering Patients First Act," multiple times from 2009 to 2015. The bill would offer refundable tax credits for health coverage, encourage the use of Health Savings Accounts (HSA) and put in place measures to curb "lawsuit abuse." It would provide Medicaid funding in the form of block grants to states, create high-risk pools and allow insurers to sell across state lines.
On March 6 House Republicans released a plan to replace Obamacare. Known as the American Health Care Act, the proposed law would scrap the individual mandate; in order to prevent younger, healthier customers from going without insurance – which would drive up premiums for remaining customers – the law would charge a 30% penalty to patients who had let their coverage lapse. It would allow insurers to charge older patients more while increasing contribution limits to HSAs. It would eliminate Obamacare's subsidies for out-of-pocket expenses and change the way Medicaid is funded, capping federal grants on a per-capita basis.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan research arm of Congress, estimated in mid-March that the House plan would see 14 million more Americans lack health insurance by 2018, a figure that would rise to 24 million by 2026. Price told reporters, "we strenuously disagree" with the CBO's report.
Price has called the role of the federal government in healthcare "stifling and oppressive" and pursued an agenda that aims to roll back and circumvent regulation. He has advocated for private contracts with Medicare patients, which would allow doctors to charge higher rates than the program permits.
Besides his hostility to Obamacare, Prices' positions on reproductive rights have inflamed tensions with the left: he wants to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions and other women’s health services; he backs a constitutional amendment to block gay marriage; and he has framed requirements that employers provide contraception in terms of religious freedom.
Stock Trading Controversy
On December 22, the Wall Street Journal reported that Price had traded more than $300,000 worth of shares in around 40 medical companies after 2012, during which time he sponsored 35 pieces of health-related legislation that could affect their stock prices. On March 17, 2016, two days after introducing a budget proposal that called for the repeal of Obamacare, he bought $15,000 worth of Aetna Inc. (AET), an insurer.
On August 31, 2016, Price purchased $50,000 to $100,000 worth of Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd. (ASX: IIL); two days earlier, New York Republican Congressman and Trump transition team member Chris Collins bought between $500,000 and $1 million worth. He is the Australian company's largest shareholder and the co-author of a bill that would expedite FDA approvals for drugs including, perhaps, Innate's multiple sclerosis drug. Price brought the stock at around A$0.41; it closed 317% higher, at A$1.71, on January 26.
Representative Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat, called on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate Price on January 10.